Reporters vs. stenographers
Some thoughts on why our local media underserves us
The title of today’s Wheeling Intelligencer editorial asks the following questions about the abuses of former Bishop Bransfield: “Who knew? Why did no one act?” The editorial rightly faults the Catholic Church but shouldn’t West Virginia media be asking themselves that same question?
The editorial mirrors a June column by the paper’s editor, Mike Myer:
If Bransfield did all these things for so long, how did he get away with it?
Like today’s editorial, the Catholic Church got all the blame in the Myer column. In a June blog post about the Myer column, I wrote:
Myer rightly questions the diocese but that is as far as he goes. I’m sure he, like anyone in the area who does not live under a rock, has heard rumors about some of Bransfield’s action in the 13 years that Bransfield has served the diocese. But, as one of the few institutions that had the ability to investigate and bring to light the wrongdoing in the Catholic Church, Ogden Newspapers have clearly given Bransfield a free pass.
(In a follow-up post, I did note that the Charleston Gazette had previously documented concerns about the bishop from members of the diocese. I could not find any questioning in Ogden papers, however.)
Interestingly, today’s editorial frequently cites the Washington Post’s investigation of Bransfield. Why is a West Virginia paper dependent upon an out-of-state newspaper for information? Why isn’t the Ogden newspaper chain, which serves a significant number of the state’s newspaper readers, doing its own investigation? My answer: investigations require time and actual reporters -- both of which cost money and consequently, are in short supply at Ogden. (Small market newspapers can do this type of reporting, however, as reporter Eric Eyre and the Charleston Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for its investigative reporting of West Virginia’s opioid crisis.) No, Ogden prefers stenographers to reporters – they’re cheaper and don’t make waves.
Last Saturday, for example, the Intelligencer reported that according to the diocese, Bransfield’s home, for which $4.6 million had been spent on renovations, was sold for $1.2 million. Questions quickly came to mind:
• Why wasn’t this a public listing and why didn’t the property sell for more than $1.2 million?
• If it was sold on August 23, why did it take three weeks to announce the sale?
• How did it end up in the hands of Congressman David McKinley’ son?
I have seen no follow-up from Wheeling papers, nor do I expect one -- which gets me back to Myer’s question on how Bransfield got away with it. I’ll amend my answer to “because those who can ask questions, don’t.”
Another example of this is our local media’s coverage of Alecto’s closure of area hospitals. Here, stenographers simply report what various parties say. There is no analysis and no depth; answers from parties involved are taped or transcribed with no follow-up questions which allows interviewees to give self-serving answers. The closures deserved a lengthy report as to how and why they happened. Instead, we’ve been given news without any background. (One of the best reports on the Ohio Valley hospital situation that came before OVMC's closing didn’t come from conventional media – it came from Nora Edinger at the online Weelunk.)
Typical of local reporting on this subject is this morning’s front-page report that Alecto’s area hospitals were being sued by a Florida company. The article gives us dollar amounts and who is suing but it gives us very little perspective. Additionally, the suit was filed on August 6. A six-week old story? How is it news? Does that even matter to the Intelligencer?